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KNOXVILLE — In the past 100 years, blacks in Tennessee have risen from a history of separation and discrimination to a “position of reachable, if not fully achieved, equality.”

However, poverty, lack of health insurance, lagging educational funding and disparities in the criminal justice system continue to be issues that need to be confronted.

Those are among the findings of “Blacks in Tennessee, Past and Present,” a new book edited by Wornie Reed, professor and director of Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The book includes chapters written by experts from around the state on the history of blacks and Africans in Tennessee and their experiences in economics, banking, insurance, politics, education, health and medical care, and criminal and juvenile justice.

A discussion and question-and-answer session with Reed and the other authors will be held at 4 p.m., Thursday, April 24, in the Hodges Library auditorium. A reception will follow the discussion, and the book will be available to purchase. Proceeds from the book go to the Africana Studies program.

The other contributors to the book include Robert Norrell, professor of history at UT; Jerry Plummer, associate professor of economics at Austin Peay State University; Sekou Franklin, assistant professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University; and Moses Tesi, professor of political science at MTSU.

Reed, who wrote three chapters in the book, was trained as a medical sociologist under a health services research training fellowship and has taught courses, conducted research and published numerous articles on medical care, health and illness, urban communities and criminal justice.

The book includes many tables of data on an array of topics such as population, employment, school enrollment, death rates, life expectancy rates and crime statistics.

Reed says the book should be used as a tool for change.

“It is for people who want to see how things got this way and to provide them the information to make things better,” he said.

Here is a look at some of the topics covered in the book:

• History: The first chapter chronicles the history of blacks in the state from the Civil War to the end of the Civil Rights Movement. By the end of the 20th century, “not every problem had been overcome, and the past of discrimination and separation still weighed heavily … But by most indicators their climb had been upward, out of a strict caste system to a position of reachable, if not fully achieved, equality,” Norrell writes.

• Economics: African Americans in Tennessee changed their standing from agricultural and rural people to mostly urban and non-agricultural during the 20th century. By the end of the century, at least half of blacks in Tennessee were considered members of the middle class while African Americans were over-represented among the poor in cities with high concentrations of blacks.

• Politics: Black men in Tennessee were among the first in the South to have the right to vote, but the state also was at the forefront of implementing segregation laws. Several practices were put into place to discourage voting by blacks. A section in the book is devoted to the Ford family’s involvement in politics. Most recently, Harold Ford Jr. ran for U.S. Senate but failed in his bid to be the first black senator in the South since Reconstruction.

• Education: A different kind of segregation — with schools in cities containing a large proportion of poor and black residents compared to suburban schools — and a lack of funding continue to be problematic.

• Health and medical care: Reed writes that institutional racism affects “how well and how long (blacks) live.” Simply having better access to medical care is not the cure-all; offering services without “the usual stigma many low-income individuals feel when they visit medical care facilities” also is important.

• Criminal Justice: In Tennessee and in the rest of the U.S., African American offenders are more likely than whites to receive longer sentences and obtain fewer diversions from prison. “What is happening on a broad scale is the removal of large numbers of young African American males from communities, harming the ability of those communities to form the human capital necessary to sustain and perpetuate themselves,” Reed writes.

• Africans: Most Africans have lived in Tennessee less than 20 years, the majority coming as refugees in the 1990s. Sudan is the most-represented African nation of origin in the state. One problem Africans have encountered is not being embraced fully by the majority white population nor black Americans.


Wornie Reed, (865) 974-5052, wreed5@utk.edu

Elizabeth Davis, UT media relations, (865) 974-5179, elizabeth.davis@tennessee.edu